Rhinos’ Jones-Bishop heading for surprise Headingley exit

Leeds Rhinos' Ben Jones-Bishop. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Leeds Rhinos' Ben Jones-Bishop. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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It is hard to see how this almost inevitable parting of the ways between Ben Jones-Bishop and Leeds Rhinos initially occurred.

The Super League leaders have confirmed their England Knights winger will leave when his contract expires at the end of the season with Warrington Wolves and Salford Red Devils both believed to be courting his signature.

Yet, still only 25, and widely acclaimed as one of the game’s most exciting players, many thought Jones-Bishop would be the latest Leeds Academy product to stay at his hometown club for life.

Head coach Brian McDermott has been a long-time admirer, ever since having him under his tutelage on a prolific season-long loan while in charge at Harlequins in 2010.

Indeed, furthermore, the Leeds chief readily concedes in the club’s press release today that Jones-Bishop – who has scored 53 tries in 76 games for the club – “remains one of the best young English players in our competition.” But the winter acquisition of England winger Tom Briscoe from Hull FC was always going to leave someone missing out.

Many thought it was a strange signing given Leeds already had possibly the world’s finest winger in England’s Ryan Hall plus the excellent Jones-Bishop too.

Granted, Jones-Bishop’s favoured position is full-back but Leeds are well served there, too, with Zak Hardaker emerging as one of the finest No 1s in the sport.

However, undoubtedly, McDermott’s decision to bring in Briscoe has raised levels of performance no end at Headingley.

All of his stellar three-quarters realise if they are not performing near their peak, they will be out given the high standard of players at his disposal.

The proof is in the pudding, as it were, with Leeds’s threequarters amassing 44 tries between them already this term; they are dazzling all who come before them.

Jones-Bishop has appeared just five times. Admittedly, he has scored seven tries in the process including a crucial double in Thursday night’s win over Castleford Tigers, but his inactivity has been a source of frustration.

Perhaps where he has been unlucky is that he was not given the chance to actually start the year.

Jones-Bishop scored nine tries in 14 games last term after returning from a potentially life-threatening blood clot and few, then, would have argued if Briscoe was made to wait for his chance.

Huddersfield Giants coach Paul Anderson did similar after acquiring England Knights winger – and Jones-Bishop’s former Queens ALRFC team-mate – Jodie Broughton from Salford.

He gave custodian Aaron Murphy, who scored 20 tries for Huddersfield last season, the shirt first and Broughton was made to bide his time.

McDermott, though, gave Briscoe an immediate start yet that was fully vindicated when the 24 year-old duly scored a hat-trick in the opening day win at Hull KR.

His stats currently read nine tries in 13 games.

Jones-Bishop did not play until the fifth game of the season and has only once played in consecutive fixtures when he scored braces against Widnes Vikings and London Broncos in March.

Speaking to him after Thursday game, he admitted that infrequency has been troublesome when he returns to the fray.

“It is hard as I haven’t played in two or three weeks,” he said. “It’s difficult with game situations.

“Some kicks were a bit hard in the second half but we get looked after well and they (club staff) make sure I do the right things to make sure when I do come in I don’t look out of place and can carry on for whoever I replace.”

Asked whether he thought he had done enough to secure his place for the Magic Weekend clash with champions Wigan Warriors a week today, he replied: “We’ll see. For me any game is a big game as I’m not sure when the next one will be.

“I just go out, try my best for the team and try to contribute.

“It was great to be back involved at Cas. It was a really tough game. They really played well and we had to tough it out at times.”

Jones-Bishop added: “I’ve been at Rhinos for seven years so it’ll be sad to leave. It was a big decision to reject the offer of a longer contract last year, but I wanted to keep my options open until now.

“I will miss the Rhinos players and fans but they can be assured I want to finish my time here on a high,”